In which we hope it’s not worse than nothing

Omri Ceren writes to update us on today’s Senate vote passing the Corker-Menendez bill. The vote was 98-1 in favor, but the 1 was Senator Cotton, which raises the question whether the bill is worse than nothing. Omri writes:

Cloture was 93-6 with only Sen. Boxer not voting. The final vote was 98-1. Sen. Cotton was the only no.

The White House and its allies have mostly given up trying to spin the substance of the legislation – Congressional review that the President had threatened for months to veto – and have moved to trying to spin the politics. There are two overarching talking points floating around from the administration side.

The first, which White House spox Josh Earnest floated in yesterday’s press briefing, is that the White House worked with Congress on the final language in the legislation, so of course they’re going to embrace it. That relies on journalists to forget the last few months of veto threats and that State Department officials were on the Hill urging Democrats to oppose the legislation the morning it came out of markup 19-0. It isn’t likely to get very far.

The second talking point, which Sen. Kaine floated to Al Monitor a few days ago, is that the legislation actually sets up Congress to approve an Iran deal simply not to reject it (see this report). This argument is more promising for the administration, if only because it’s less likely to get laughed out of the room. It more or less says “OK, now Congress will have a chance to register disapproval of a dea, but if it doesn’t vote the deal down, that means Congress has approved the deal.”

The problem with this talking point is math. Under Corker-Menendez, Congress needs overwhelming majorities to register disapproval of a deal, and a supermajority in both chambers for overriding an inevitable Presidential veto. One can imagine a scenario in which 65 Senators vote to override a Presidential veto, falling short of a supermajority. The White House would need to have a very low opinion of journalists to try to tell them that counts as “Congressional approval.”

In any case, that’s a messaging war for the coming days and weeks. The Senate just rebuked the President’s Iran diplomacy 98-1. It was bipartisan to such an extent that the only nay came from a Republican. That’s a very difficult thing to spin.

Senator Cotton has posted the following statement opposing the bill on his site:

A nuclear-arms agreement with any adversary—especially the terror-sponsoring, Islamist Iranian regime—should be submitted as a treaty and obtain a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate as required by the Constitution. President Obama wants to reverse this rule, requiring opponents to get a two-thirds vote to stop his dangerous deal. But Congress should not accept this usurpation, nor allow the president any grounds to claim that Congress blessed his nuclear deal. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to stop a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon.


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